Rizzo recalls 'good memories' after trade

July 30th, 2021

CHICAGO -- spent his final day in a Cubs uniform moving up and down the third-base dugout on Thursday afternoon, talking to teammates and flashing the smile that he made famous over the past decade on the North Side.

Cubs fans can surely picture it, especially when thinking back to the moment Rizzo's arms shot skyward after he secured the final out of the 2016 World Series in Cleveland. He was the first building block of Chicago's star-packed core back in ‘12. Now, Rizzo is the first major piece of that group to exit via trade.

As the team departed Wrigley Field on Thursday following a 7-4 loss to the Reds, Rizzo was informed that he was being traded to the Yankees. The first baseman was dealt to New York for outfield prospect Kevin Alcántara and pitching prospect Alexander Vizcaíno, with the Cubs picking up the remainder of Rizzo’s $16.5 million salary.

“What we did here,” Rizzo said, “I think in due time I'll be able to speak more on it. But it's just unbelievable, the run. And we won't ever take it for granted.”

After learning the news and speaking to his teammates, Rizzo walked around Wrigley Field with his family. He and his wife, Emily, stopped for photos in front of the ivy-covered wall in center field and let their dog, Kevin, run around the outfield. And then the longtime Cubs first baseman took the time to speak with a small group of reporters before leaving.

What was going through his mind as he walked the outfield?

“A lot. Some good memories here,” Rizzo said. “My whole life, I grew up here. All good things come to an end. It's going to be a tough second half here, which a lot of us here aren't used to in a long time. To be able to go to another historic franchise like the Yankees, it's unbelievable.”

This is the beginning of the "inevitable" change that president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and manager David Ross have forecasted over recent days and weeks. Not only Rizzo, but Kris Bryant and other Cubs also await their fate ahead of Friday's 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline. With the Cubs in fourth place in the National League Central, selling major pieces was the predicted, but still stunning path.

For Thursday's game, which was circled for weeks as potentially the final home game for some of the players who helped end the franchise's 108-year World Series drought, both Rizzo and Bryant were out of the Cubs' starting lineup.

During the ninth inning, some fans inside the Friendly Confines chanted, “We want Rizzo!”

That made the first baseman smile.

“This city will be ingrained right in my heart for the rest of my life,” said Rizzo, who beat a fist against his chest for emphasis.

Ross insisted that it was merely a day off for both players, explaining that Rizzo had not received a day off since the All-Star break and Thursday was "earmarked" as a rest day. The manager mentioned that Bryant played both left field and shortstop Wednesday, and recently dealt with leg fatigue.

"[I know] that's the storyline," Ross said of all the trade speculation. "I literally don't come in to work on a daily basis thinking about who's going to be traded or who's not. I try to still take care of my players."

Maybe that was true, as Ross does still have to manage games while Hoyer works the phones. But the other clear (unspoken) motivation for such a move was to protect both Bryant and Rizzo, who gave the Cubs major trade pieces as the front office plots the franchise's future direction.

During Thursday's game, the Cubs traded setup man Ryan Tepera to the White Sox for Minor League lefty Bailey Horn. That followed recent trades that shipped lefty Andrew Chafin (A's) and outfielder Joc Pederson (Braves) out of town for prospects.

Chicago's biggest trade chips remaining are Bryant and closer Craig Kimbrel. Like Bryant and Rizzo, shortstop Javier Báez is poised for free agency, making him a fit for rumors, too. Any number of others on short-term deals could also be flipped for farmhands.

Vizcaíno, 24, and Alcántara, 19, rank as the Cubs' No. 6 and No. 9 prospects respectively, according to MLB Pipeline. Vizcaíno had tossed just six innings in 2021 between the Rookie-level FCL Yankees and High-A Hudson Valley, recording a 7.50 ERA. Alcántara has played eight games in the FCL, hitting .360 with a home run and a double during that span.

“Everybody's curious,” Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said of the team’s direction from here. “Fans, players, everybody. But we're focused on tomorrow.”

Over the past homestand, Yankees scouts saw Rizzo go 8-for-22 with three home runs, including going back-to-back with Bryant on Sunday. On the season, the 31-year-old Rizzo is batting .248/.346/.446 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs in 92 games.

What neither Rizzo nor Bryant received on Thursday was a chance to wave to the Wrigley Field crowd before the team headed to Washington for a series against the Nationals.

With two outs in the ninth inning, Bryant strapped on his arm guard, grabbed a bat and donned his helmet. He stood on the dugout steps in the hole, ready to pinch-hit out of the pitcher's spot if it came around against Cincinnati.

Bryant looked on as Jason Heyward struck out to end the game, and the Cubs star then took a seat on the bench. As the dugout was emptied, Bryant stared out at the field for a few seconds before standing up, tucking his batting gloves in his back pocket and heading inside.

“I don't hold the future,” Bryant said earlier this week. “But I'm sure there will be a time that I'll be back, too. Plenty of great moments here. Probably plenty more to come.”

Rizzo said he is “leaving with no regrets,” and he had a message for Cubs fans on his way out of the ballpark.

“I just love them. It'll always be nothing but love,” he said. “From my family to our foundation to just everyone, it's been the best nine years, 10 years of my life here. It'll continue. The memories here last forever. That's why I always cherished every moment.”